What is the golden hour?

In a nutshell the golden hour is the time just after sunrise and just before sunset.

what is the golden hour

What are we looking for?

The reason this light is so coveted is because of the angle of the light. As the sun drops lower on the horizon, the light coming from the sun has to travel through more of the earths atmosphere. As such it becomes more diffuse and therefore softer and more flattering for portraits. Why more flattering? The light lands evenly across the face with no harsh shadows.

Go science!

Those glorious colours in the sky? That’s sunlight hitting all the rubbish that’s in our atmosphere. Space junk, atmospheric junk, all the junk.

During the summer months just before sunset and just after sunrise (this doesn’t really apply in winter, plus it’s cold, no one wants to be outside) the landscape is bathed in a warm orange glow that lasts for about an hour, sometimes longer.

What else is the golden hour good for and is it good for wedding photography?

The golden hour, or magic hour as it’s sometimes known, is a celebration of the light coming at your face! …at a very low angle. If you face the sun, everything you look at will be lit from behind. This is called back-lighting and it’s rather desirable because it firstly creates a halo around the subject, which is golden and looks ace, and secondly, it creates clear delineation between the subject and the background. Lastly, because the light is behind the subject, then the face (if you’re shooting portraits) is in perfect, evenly lit reflected light – no weird shadows, just soft loveliness.

In the space of half an hour you can achieve quite different looks and the only thing that has changed is the sun has set. Golden warmth in the evening sun, followed by a brief window to shoot with any background you choose in perfectly even light. That’s enough then, back we go to the party!

This type of lighting isn’t always desirable as it highlights all flyaway hairs, so if you’re looking for a modern, high fashion look, then you’re better off shooting at midday with clean, sharp shadows.

Golden hour is when to shoot if you’re looking for dreamy, ethereal, fine art type images. Soft colours, pastel tones, fresh linen – those vibes.

This period of time is loved by many, however I’m going to throw a curve-ball as my favourite time overlaps from the fifteen minutes before the sun dips below the horizon to the fifteen minutes after the sun has set. Why you may ask, well i’ll tell ye!

The sun has dropped below the horizon which means there is no direct light landing on your face and creating odd shadows and shapes. The light comes over the curve of the earth and bends, so the scene is still light, but there’s no direct light falling on you, the subject. This period of light doesn’t last very long, but it’s brilliant because you still get a warm glow across the sky but with the added benefit that you can shoot in all directions. This is a big win because typically you want to keep the sun behind the subject, but then that limits how you can frame the shot and you may have a crappy background to contend with. No need to worry about where the best light is and maybe have to compromise on the background, the best light is all around you so you can go all in on background and composition, knowing the light will be perfect.

The other benefit is that because the window of opportunity is so narrow, you can’t physically spend ages taking couple portraits, which is typically what my clients want to avoid at all costs.

There we go, until next time!

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